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Can dance boost our brain power?

Today is International Dance Day, and to celebrate this cheerful event we asked our Cognitive Scientist (and secret dance lover) Martina to shine a spotlight on why we should be turning on music and busting out some moves to boost our brainpower.

"Dance emerges from the encounter between movement and music. From the combination of the two, dancing benefits our physical and mental wellbeing, offering a unique connection between our body and mind." Martina Ratto - Cognitive Scientist, Beingwell

Is dance beneficial to our overall wellbeing?

The short answer is, yes! As an aerobic activity, dance promotes our cardiovascular fitness by increasing blood flow to the brain (that’s good!). It’s considered one of the most complete forms of exercise, combining muscular training, strength, balance and flexibility. Together with the uplifting effects of music, dance is well known for decreasing our stress levels, reducing anxiety and improving our mood.

Can dance stop me from ageing?

Not exactly, however, research shows that dance has an extraordinary impact on our brain power at any age and can prevent or reduce cognitive decline while ageing. It might not make us immortal but it can help us keep our noggin’ in tip-top condition as we (gulp) get older.

A 21-years study investigating the protective effect of leisure activities on the risk of developing dementia showed that frequent dancing was the number one activity most able to reduce the risk! Grab your dancing shoes! [1]

This is possible thanks to the plastic-fantastic ability of our brain: by stimulating multiple areas at the same time (rational, kinesthetic, musical, emotional) dance allows the development of new neural pathways, in other words, our secret weapon against cognitive decline.

So, how can we improve our thinking ability through dancing?

All types of dance appear to be beneficial to our physical and mental health, but not all of them stimulate our thinking ability in quite the same way.

Heading to a dance class or popping on YouTube to learn some delightfully complex choreography can help our memory and coordination. I can’t stop watching this amazing video:

But fret not, we don’t need to be learning complex choreography to benefit from dance, in actual fact improvised dance (especially in a pair or a group) has the biggest potential to boost our brainpower. Yey!

Improvised dance requires creativity, good processing speed, attention, and quick decision making in order to be able to either bust out a move or respond to someone else's movement. This is really common in any style of couple dance, from classic waltz to hot-blooded Latin dances, to cheerful swing dances, but can also be found in group contact improvisation techniques in contemporary dance.

"Nobody cares if you can’t dance well. Just get up and dance." Martha Graham, aka The Mother of Modern Dance

No matter what our age, whether we’re on our own, with partners or with friends, locked at home or enjoying some outdoor time. No matter whether we know diddly-squat about dance, have no idea what a grand jeté is or we’re really not party animals. There are as many ways of dancing as cultures in the world, and one of them will be made for us.

How can we start to benefit from dance in very few simple steps?

Join a non-professional open class - there are a vast number available either in dance schools, online or outdoors. We can do it as an alternative form of exercise, as a way to learn a few moves to experiment with when we’re eventually allowed to have parties or to start a self-reflective, mindful new journey.

Find some people to dance with - from street dance festivals to social dance events, to bio-dance groups to online classes, dance is a good way to connect with others, meet new people and express ourselves in alternative ways.

Stop reading this, put some music on in your living room, wiggle your bum, sway your hips, wave your arms! Have fun!


  1. Leisure activities and the risk of dementia in the elderly (2003). New England Journal of Medicine




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